After retirement, I bought an adjacent villa purely to house the books I had collected during my student days and the forty years of service, I rendered to the government of Pondicherry as a teacher of English Literature. My library-cum-study is flooded with rare books that no other private library could boast of. Yet I do not hesitate to accommodate the books that come seeking shelter. Any second copy in my study will find its way to any good college or school library depending upon the need. To cut the short story a little shorter my love for books fleece my purse and I become poorer by two to three thousand bucks every month. I can boldly declare that I am a collector of books. I pass for a voracious reader too. The doors of my huge library remain open on all the seven days of the week to many researchers and a few fellow writers who seek my help. Good researchers and writers who make use of the library are a vanishing tribe. A few, who use my library, walk away with the books of their choice.  Yet I do not hesitate to lend books. Books, after all, are meant to be read. But if they are eaten or torn to shreds…

My eyes that usually shed tears of joy at the sight of rare books in my collection, now sheds tears of sorrow and makes me howl when I see the books mauled, raped, injured, abused and kicked around. The marauding rats that love to live in my library and make the best use of books, preferably the old and rare ones are the real uninvited guests. To do away with them, I have to take all possible measures. But the rats, call them mouse or bandicoot, are cleverer than me. If I go in one way to get rid of them they prefer a different technology of dodging me and making their abode permanent in my library with their kith and kin.

At the suggestion of a neighbouring oldie, I bought rat poison and daubed the powder on half cut plump ripe tomatoes, and kept them in different corners, inviting the villains of books to have their last supper. The next morning I found the tomatoes half-eaten. But not a carcass was in sight. To my dismay, I found three rats scurrying for cover. Later I came to know that rats that eat poisoned food drink water as an antidote. Poison and antidote are found in the same place. Perhaps the escapist smelling a rat in the tomato had cautioned his kin not to have a taste of the forbidden fruit. When a friend told me about maggots that germinate from dead rats and put our health conditions in jeopardy, I completely avoided poisoning the rats. What use? It will only amount to poisoning ourselves.

As an alternative measure, I bought a rat cutter-trap. “The rat will die with its skull smashed. Be careful with your fingers,” warned the seller. I magnanimously sacrificed a fillet of salted dried fish fully oiled and cooked. The dangling hook that held food was tightened and kept in a dark corner. I eagerly awaited that thudding noise to come at any time. Sleep hugged me and when the sun rose, I hurried to the library, eager to see a guillotined rat. Oh, Poor me! The sharp-witted rat managed to release the hook from behind by nibbling at its binder. The rat had its meal from the released dangling hook. No mechanical device to trap rats was of any use to me and I did away with them. Present-day rats are all technology oriented. Perhaps they are born with a silver chip in their heads.

My next attempt was with a glue rat mat and I had to shell out a hundred bucks for a catcher mat. I was sure that the rats that joyfully run over the mat would not be able to get out of it. Damn with the bucks. I have spent a fortune in collecting books. Should I grieve over the tuppence? I spread the mat at one dark corner of the library expecting it to trap at least two. But on the next day, I found no rat on the mat but a slim book dragged from a cupboard. Believe it or not, it was T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’. As a last hope, I brought a cat home and gave it a free access to my library. It meowed. There was dead silence. Hurrah! The rats would flee or die. By morn, I opened the door with the great hope of seeing the carcasses of rats lying pell-mell as in a battlefield. Oh no! The cat took to its heels shivering all over.

About the author: P. Raja
P. Raja
P.Raja (October 07, 1952) a son of this divine soil, Pondicherry, India famed for its spiritual heritage, writes in his chosen language, English, and also in his mother tongue, Tamil. More than 5000 of his works – poems, short stories, interviews, articles, book reviews, plays, skits, features and novellas – have seen the light through newspapers and magazines that number to 350 in both India and elsewhere. He has 30 books for adults and 8 books for children in English and 14 books in Tamil. Apart from contributing special articles to Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English (London), Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature in English, and to several other edited volumes, he has also written scripts for Television (Delhi). He broadcasts his short stories and poems from All India Radio, Pondicherry. He was General Council Member of Central Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi (English Advisory Board - 2008-2012) representing the Pondicherry University. He is Editor of TRANSFIRE, a literary quarterly devoted to translations from various languages into English. His website: www.professorraja.comAuthor can be reached at [email protected]

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